Mars’ Phoenix Lander – The Polar Explorer
Seeking Polar Water-Ice!
NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander mission was a stationary lander sent to an area of Mars’ polar north with the lander making a soft landing using descent engines all the way to the Martian surface. Using its extendable arm, the lander sampled soil and frozen water found just below the surface while also analyzing the polar atmosphere during the planned three-month prime mission.
Phoenix Lander Fast Summary Facts!
- Type: Lander
- Destination: Mars
- Status: Mission ended
- Launch Location: Cape Canaveral, Florida
- Launch Date: August 4th 2007
- Arrival Date: May 25th 2008
- Mission Duration: 5 months, 5 days
Cool Fun Facts All About NASA’s Phoenix Lander Mission!
- Following Mars Odyssey’s discovery of ample water-ice in the polar regions, the Phoenix Lander had two objectives;
- Study the presence and geologic history of water - the key to unlocking the story of past climate change.
- Evaluate past or potential planetary habitability in the ice-soil.
- The Phoenix Lander spacecraft only weighed 350 kilograms (770 lb) and was launched aboard the Delta II rocket.
- The Phoenix Lander measures 5.5 m (18 feet) tip-to-tip across its solar panels with a total mission cost of $420 million USD.
- Phoenix landed near Mars’ in Vastitas Borealis which are the arctic plains of Mars’ polar north.
- Check out the JPL video of the Phoenix landing!
- This was NASA’s 6th successful landing out of 7 attempts on Mars.
- The spacecraft utilizes solar panels for power generation.
- Once it had landed and was ready for operations, the lander used its trench-digging arm and a set of analytical tools to study soil and frozen water from just below the surface, while checking for the presence of organic compounds to evaluate whether the site was once favourable for microbial life.
- Following Phoenix’s science mission, scientists confirmed the lander had made several discoveries;
- Identified the presence of water-ice
- Falling snow was observed
- Established that the climate had been wetter and warmer in the recent past, more so than had been anticipated
- The discovery of the oxidizer Perchlorate was present in the soil
- The Phoenix Lander finally succumbed to the low light of the frigid winter two months later than planned when the spacecraft slipped into safe mode due to lack of power.
As it turned out, the Phoenix Lander would ‘rise from the ashes’ once again - as its design is what the later Mars InSight mission, which launched in May 2018, was modelled on.